Endeavoring to inspire self-confidence Warah debuted in 2008. Ever since its debut Rumana Chowdhury has been venturing not only in the fashion designing industry but also in the entrepreneurial sector.

Please tell us about your journey as a fashion designer. What inspired you to take up an entrepreneurial venture?
I was actually very young when I started out. I was only 25 years old, and when you’re that young, you don’t really think critically when you’re trying to do something. For me, starting this business was a bit challenging and I didn’t start it to learn about entrepreneurship; I just picked up the skills along the way.
My story of transitioning to an entrepreneurial venture from fashion designing is fascinating as it began with ICE Today.
I found the fashion portfolios in ICE Today as they aligned with my taste. I graduated from BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology (BUFT), so my educational background is in fashion designing. When I saw the fashion portfolios of brands like Ecstacy and O2, I got the sudden inspiration to open up a fashion boutique, and create my own brand.
I started in 2008 from home, and posted an ad and a portfolio in ICE Today. I got good responses, and people started calling me for appointments. But I was unable to give enough time as I was busy taking care of my son. I then decided to open an outlet in Banani and call it Warah, named after my son, Saad Omar Warah. Interestingly, after the first photoshoot, I was still undecided on the name and was considering other options like ‘Fashion Diary’ or ‘My Portfolio’. I just uploaded the file with the caption ‘Warah’, thinking I would change it in the morning, but things took a different turn. I woke up to 59 messages and 200+ notifications on Facebook. And that is how I started.
It was all spontaneous and overnight. Even now, that’s how things are sometimes. Often, I might come up with an idea and work on it till it gets published, and sometimes I don’t work for three months straight.


Congratulations on winning the Young Entrepreneurs Award at JCI Bangladesh 2021. How special is this award to you than other accolades you’ve received earlier?
I have been awarded many times as a fashion designer before, but this is the second time and hopefully not the last time I will be awared as an entrepreneur. I started in 2010, then attended the Dhaka Fashion Week in 2011, and right after that, I was awarded best designer of the year. That was one of the biggest motivations for my career. This time, JCI recognised me as an entrepreneur and that is very exciting for me.
To me, the word ‘entrepreneur’ sounds really scary. I never really had a knack for it, nor did I ever want to think about it. Everything that I know is from running my business. Perhaps, if I had some previous training, I could have been more organised about Warah.
Running a fashion brand store in Banani for 1for the past 10 years has not been easy. But the lessons I have learned from the experience has made me more assertive, organized, and fearless. So, I am not going to say I am a very good or successful entrepreneur. But I believe that I do have that talent for entrepreneurship, enough to run such a business for 10 years.
I do have to say that I am more into fashion and creativity than entrepreneurship. I never blend them together because I feel it affects creativity. I am not a commercial designer. I am devoted to art, culture, and heritage.

You are the National Secretary-General at JCI Bangladesh alongside running your fashion brand, Warah. How do you balance these two roles?
Right now, I am a full-time member at JCI and only a part-time designer at Warah. But, JCI and Warah are not the only two things I have been involved with as caring for my son is also one of my biggest responsibilities. These three things have equal priority for me.
Usually, from morning to noon, I look after my son, from noon to evening, I work on Warah and my designs and later at night I work on JCI again.
I always have to dedicate time for designing and JCI. Without that practice I wouldn’t be able to keep myself updated with important current events.




What are the challenges you have faced as a fashion entrepreneur, in building your brand? How did you overcome them?
When starting, I only had about 15 thousand taka. A woman of only 25-26 years old trying to start a faces a lot of challenges as no one wants to help them with investment. I couldn’t even get a bank loan. First of all, I had no Fixed Deposit Receipt (FDR), and my trade license was less than two years old. Bangladesh Bank wasn’t approving loans back then unless the trade license was at least 2 years old. That’s when my father loaned me BDT 15 lacs for 5 years. My project needed 21 lacs, but somehow I managed. In only 4 years I was able to pay off all the money. Till now I have not taken any loans.
I had to move my store 4 times in a span of 10 years. It’s really not an easy job and I had to invest an enormous amount of money in shifting and interior design. To move 4 times in the first 6-7 years of my business really took a toll on me. But all of these things were a part of my learning. Maybe if I didn’t face any of these issues, I wouldn’t have learned how to face my fears and become a better person. So, I always appreciate these struggles, and I take them positively. Without these challenges, I would have remained the young and emotional Rumana like I was before.
I never complain, to be honest. I believe, whatever happens, happens for a reason. If I didn’t have to shut down my first store, I couldn’t have opened my current store which is much bigger. I would have been stuck at that 800 square feet store and never moved to the 1200 square feet store that I have now. Life has its own business faces a lot of challenges. You never know what’s going to happen to you.

Every brand holds a particular essence. What is Warah’s essence that sets itself apart?
Warah’s essence is that it works with local material. We work with Khadi and block print. Before starting, I worked with a lot of materials including Jamdani and Muslin. At one point, I felt like I was suffering from an identity crisis. Whatever I would work with never felt like my own and there were always other designers working with those as well. Then, I thought, I need a signature point of my own. I needed something that would make Warah distinctive from other stores and make people come here to buy that. So, that’s when I sat down and started planning on what could be my signature point that would make people know Rumana and Warah. That’s when I came up with Khadi and Cheese cotton. It has a higher thread count but is thin and soft, often used for a beige look.
Another thing is I like heritage wear. Angarkha is one of Warah’s popular categories. People actually look it up on Google and Facebook to see the collection. I enjoy working with heritage wear. I wanted to bring people out of a typical mainstream mindset. That was my primary purpose or agenda. So, if I have to speak of the essence, the material, color combination, and comfort are the main essences of Warah. These are the reasons people come to Warah.


Photograph: Courtesy of Rumana Chowdhury